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High Court rules media are liable for Facebook comments on their stories. Here’s what that …

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A publisher can be held responsible for defamatory comments readers leave on its Facebook pages, the High Court ruled today, in a decision that could have far-reaching consequences for social media users throughout Australia.

This decision may mean anyone who runs a social media page can theoretically be sued over disparaging comments posted by readers or random group members — even if you aren’t aware of the comment.

In other words, if you post content on your social media page and encourage or invite comments — and people post defamatory comments there — you’re legally the “publisher” of those comments and can be sued, thanks to today’s ruling.

Today’s case focused on Facebook but the implications are not Facebook-specific. It can apply equally to Twitter, Instagram, and other social media too — or websites (such as The Conversation) that have comments sections.

Facebook and Instagram page administrators can turn off comments altogether, and Twitter allows you to restrict comments so only certain people can post to it.

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Today’s ruling may inspire many social media account managers to make greater use of these features and tightly restrict comments — or, where possible, switch them off completely.




Read more:
Media companies can now be held responsible for your dodgy comments on social media


Former Don Dale inmate Dylan Voller and the comments

Today’s case centres on former Don Dale Youth Detention Centre inmate Dylan Voller, who you might remember as the young man wearing the spit hood in a Four Corners report on conditions in the Northern Territory juvenile justice system.

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Three media companies published stories about Voller to their Facebook page, and readers left comments underneath those posts. The media stories themselves were not defamatory but Voller alleged some of those reader comments were, so he sued.

But he didn’t sue the commenters; he sued the media outlets who ran the Facebook pages, arguing they were “publishers” of the comments. Today’s case centred on whether or not the media companies could be defined as “publishers” of comments by readers and other “third party users”.

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Former Don Dale detainee Dylan Voller speaks to the media during a press conference in Canberra
Former Don Dale detainee Dylan Voller alleged that reader comments posted on the Facebook pages of three media outlets were defamatory.
LUKAS COCH/AAP

In 2019, the Supreme Court of New South Wales ruled in Voller’s favour. Justice Rothman held the media companies were indeed “publishers” of the comments from third-party users and were therefore responsible for them.

The media companies appealed, but last year the New South Wales Court of Appeal found again in Voller’s favour. In other words, the Court of Appeal agreed the media outlets were “publishers” of comments by random readers on their Facebook pages.

The decision sent shockwaves through the Australian media, which field countless comments on their social media pages every day. The media publishers appealed to the High Court, which brings us to today. The High Court decided:

The Court of Appeal was correct to hold that the acts of the appellants in
facilitating, encouraging and thereby assisting the posting of comments by the
third-party Facebook users rendered them publishers of those comments. The appeals should be dismissed with costs.

Five judges ruled in favour of Voller and two dissented (Justice Steward and Justice Edelman). Essentially, Voller won today, the media companies are indeed “publishers” and the media companies have to pay his legal costs.

Today’s ruling doesn’t mark the end of the line for this case.

Now it’s been established the media companies are publishers of the comments, Voller’s defamation case can start in earnest — in other words, it’s still yet to be decided whether or not the comments were in fact defamatory and what defences the media publishers might have under defamation law.

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You might be wondering: can the person who posted the comment also be held responsible for their comment, under defamation law?

The answer is yes, they can. But from the perspective of someone suing, it might not be worth going after an individual social media user or a troll, especially if they are using a pseudonym. A plaintiff is more likely to want to go after the media company itself as the publisher, with their deeper pockets.

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The question at the centre of this case was: can a publisher be held responsible for comments left on their Facebook page?
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Broader implications for social media users

Today’s ruling may mean if you post something to a social media platform and encourage or invite third party comments, you could be liable for any comments that follow. So it could affect individuals, online community groups, neighbourhood Facebook pages, the local P&C Facebook page, and so on.

One of the interesting things about the Voller case is his legal team sued straight away — they didn’t issue a concerns notice first (which is basically a legal letter sent to the person or organisation alleged to have made the defamatory comments, giving them a chance to respond).

That wouldn’t be allowed now. Under new defamation laws that came into effect this July in NSW, Victoria, South Australia Queensland and the ACT, plaintiffs must now serve a concerns notice on each defendant and wait at least a fortnight before suing.

Those same reforms also introduced what’s called a “serious harm threshold”. Under this rule, the plaintiff has to prove they have, in fact, suffered (or are likely to suffer) serious harm to their reputation as a result of the published comments.

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This clause aims to rule out trivial defamation cases because while it’s true anyone can cause serious harm to a person’s reputation on social media, there is also a lot of banter and to-ing and fro-ing which might be offensive but might not cause serious harm to a reputation. This may give some protection to admins of social media pages in future, particularly private individuals.




Read more:
The policing of Australian satire: why defamation is still no joke, despite recent law changes


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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

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Facebook Messenger Is Launching a Split Payments Feature for Users to Quickly Share Expenses

Meta has announced the arrival of a new Split Payments feature in Facebook Messenger. This feature, as the name suggests, will let you calculate and split expenses with others right from Facebook Messenger. This feature essentially looks to bring an easier method to share the cost of bills and expenses — for example, splitting a dinner bill with friends. Using this new Split Payment feature, Facebook Messenger users will be able to split bills evenly or modify the contribution for each individual, including their own.

The company took to its blog post to announce the new Split Payment feature in Facebook Messenger. 9to5Mac reports that this new bill splitting feature is still in beta and will be exclusive to US users at first. The rollout will begin early next week. As mentioned, it will help users share the cost of bills, expenses, and payments. This feature is especially useful for those who share an apartment and need to split the monthly rent and other expenses with their mates. It could also come handy at a group dinner with many people.

With Split Payments, users can add the number of people the expense needs to be divided with and, by default, the amount entered will be divided in equal parts. A user can also modify each person’s contribution including their own. To use Split Payments, click the Get Started button in a group chat or the Payments Hub in Messenger. Users can modify the contribution in the Split Payments option and send a notification to all the users who need to make payments. After entering a personalised message and confirming your Facebook Pay details, the request will be sent and viewable in the group chat thread.

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Once someone has made the payment, you can mark their transaction as ‘completed’. The Split Payment feature will automatically take into account your share as well and calculate the amount owed accordingly.


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Tasneem Akolawala is a Senior Reporter for Gadgets 360. Her reporting expertise encompasses smartphones, wearables, apps, social media, and the overall tech industry. She reports out of Mumbai, and also writes about the ups and downs in the Indian telecom sector. Tasneem can be reached on Twitter at @MuteRiot, and leads, tips, and releases can be sent to tasneema@ndtv.com.

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Facebook Owner Meta Launches New Platform, Safety Hub to Protect Women in India

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Meta (formerly Facebook) on Thursday announced a slew of steps to protect woman users on its platform, including the launch of StopNCII.org in India that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

Meta has also launched the Women’s Safety Hub, which will be available in Hindi and 11 other Indian languages, that will enable more women users in India to access information about tools and resources that can help them make the most of their social media experience, while staying safe online.

This initiative by Meta will ensure women do not face a language barrier in accessing information Karuna Nain, director (global safety policy) at Meta Platforms, told reporters here.

“Safety is an integral part of Meta’s commitment to building and offering a safe online experience across the platforms and over the years the company has introduced several industry leading initiatives to protect users online.

“Furthering our effort to bolster the safety of users, we are bringing in a number of initiatives to ensure online safety of women on our platforms,” she added.

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StopNCII.org is a platform that aims to combat the spread of non-consensual intimate images (NCII).

“It gives victims control. People can come to this platform proactively, hash their intimate videos and images, share their hashes back with the platform and participating companies,” Nain said.

She explained that the platform doesn’t receive any photos and videos, and instead what they get is the hash or unique digital fingerprint/unique identifier that tells the company that this is a known piece of content that is violating. “We can proactively keep a lookout for that content on our platforms and once it”s uploaded, our review team check what”s really going on and take appropriate action if it violates our policies,” she added.

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In partnership with UK Revenge Porn Helpline, StopNCII.org builds on Meta’s NCII Pilot, an emergency programme that allows potential victims to proactively hash their intimate images so they can”t be proliferated on its platforms.

The first-of-its-kind platform, has partnered with global organisations to support the victims of NCII. In India, the platform has partnered with organisations such as Social Media Matters, Centre for Social Research, and Red Dot Foundation.

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Nain added that the company is hopeful that this becomes an industrywide initiative, so that victims can just come to this one central place to get help and support and not have to go to each and every tech platform, one by one to get help and support.

Also, Bishakha Datta (executive editor of Point of View) and Jyoti Vadehra from Centre for Social Research are the first Indian members in Meta”s Global Women”s Safety Expert Advisors. The group comprises 12 other non-profit leaders, activists, and academic experts from different parts of the world and consults Meta in the development of new policies, products and programmes to better support women on its apps.

“We are confident that with our ever-growing safety measures, women will be able to enjoy a social experience which will enable them to learn, engage and grow without any challenges.

“India is an important market for us and bringing Bishakha and Jyoti onboard to our Women”s Safety Expert Advisory Group will go a long way in further enhancing our efforts to make our platforms safer for women in India,” Nain said.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

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The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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